New-found flavors

Delectable nuggets of food and wine establishments await visitors in the little-known recesses of the Galilee.

By
February 24, 2012 19:44
Abaya boutique winery

Abaya boutique winery 390. (photo credit: Anatoly Michaelo)

 
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A grassroots initiative was developed last summer to promote tourism in the western Galilee – Western Galilee Now – with a culinary emphasis that aims to introduce visitors to some of the hidden gems in the area. I was invited to participate in a guided tour of some of the hot spots.

Helen and Sara is a restaurant located in the corner of a mall complex on Route 4 between Nahariya and Acre.

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The design of the restaurant is light and clean with vintage touches. The high-quality cuisine – French combined with traditional local dishes – is fresh and original. We sampled a variety of dishes such as soup, fish, seafood and pasta. A dish that particularly tickled my taste buds was sea bream on a bed of risotto with chestnuts, shiitake mushrooms and a tangy lemon mousse that set the flavors off perfectly.

A little farther up the road is Alto, a kosher family-owned goat farm that sells cheese and yogurt. The cheese selection ranges from soft to hard and mild to mature, including a blue cheese, which I was told, is rare to find among goat cheeses. In April the owners will launch an initiative, inviting visitors to learn about the cheese-making process and, of course, to taste the products.(www.altodairy.co.il)

Next, I visited the Stern Winery. Founded by Jonny Stern on Kibbutz Tuval seven years ago, it has won countless awards in Israel and abroad.

The Brazilian vintner invites visitors to the winery to sample his red wines, accompanied by an explanation on wine-making. Of his five wines, blended and varietal, I particularly enjoyed the smooth Cabernet Sauvignon, while my fellow wine tasters preferred the more peppery Cabernet Franc. We agreed, however, that each wine was delicious. Stern told us that several years ago he took a wine course, at the end of which he brought his own homemade wine for his class to sample. His teacher refused to taste it, telling him that he didn’t drink “bad wine.” Stern took the slight as a challenge and went on to establish his winery. Three years later, he tasted sweet victory when the teacher was a judge at a wine competition where Stern won the gold medal. (www.sternwinery.co.il)

Aluma is a chef restaurant in the Jewish-Arab village of Ma’alot-Tarshiha. It serves French and Mediterranean cuisine, combined with seasonal flavors of the Galilee. The bistro has gained quite a reputation, with 80 percent of its customers coming from Tel Aviv. The restaurant creates fresh, interesting dishes from a menu that changes every three months according to the seasons.

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We sampled main courses of steak, fish, gnocchi and sashimi, and wrapped up with a fresh and fruity dessert. The food was topnotch, down to the fresh bread baked on the premises and the palate-cleansing sorbet served between courses.

Next stop was the Malka brewery, situated at the foot of Yehiam Fortress. There visitors’ center manager Rachel gave us a tour. We sampled four types of boutique beer, from light blonde made with orange peel, to dark Irish ale. Malka beer is made from natural products and makes for a refreshing change from Goldstar. (www.malkabeer.co.il)

Next door is the Abaya boutique winery, founded by Yossi Yodfat in 2006. After searching for his passion in life, he set his sights on wine. He blends Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Petit Verdot and Carignan grapes to create two tasty red wines: MoonA and Le Rouge. (www.abayawinery.com)

Tamar Vegefen is a beautiful guest house in Mitzpe Hila. Comprising three suites, it was built and designed by owners Tamar and Yaron. The couple struck the perfect balance, creating tasteful, unpretentious suites that leave guests feeling delightfully pampered. The rooms are decorated in a Mediterranean style with a Turkish influence. White is the dominant color of the wooden cabins, which look out onto stunning views of green oak forest. There is a rustic fireplace in every room, providing a warm, cozy glow that central heating simply cannot match.

A Jacuzzi stands in the pretty garden outside each suite, which makes for great winter fun, inviting guests to defy the cold by plunging into the steaming bubbles. Tamar and Yaron provide robes in which to wrap up, as well as films to watch on the flat-screen TV before sinking into the white cotton sheets. The duo provides homemade sweet treats and a refrigerator stocked with beverages in every room.

Guests also receive a bottle of red house wine, produced on the premises by Yaron, from grapes grown in Mitzpe Hila’s vineyards.

Tamar Vegefen also hosts wine-tasting evenings with expert Moran Asor. The wine is accompanied by a delectable spread by the local Brioche Cafe, which includes quiches, filled rolls, smoked fish, salads and goat cheese. The workshop is fun, unique, and equips participants with a new appreciation for the world
of wine. (www.tamar-gefen.co.il)

Aya Natural is a cosmetics company in the Druse village of Beit Jann. It manufactures skincare products from olive oil. Jamal Hamoud, who founded the company, works on the principles of ecology and health. He uses edible olive oil to make his chemical-free products, living by the rule that what’s good enough to put on your skin should be good enough to eat as well. Aya Natural uses natural methods to retain the vitamins and nourishing characteristics of olive oil. According to Hamoud, Britain’s Prince Charles took a liking to his line and was sent a special delivery of his natural products. Hamoud invites groups to visit the center, learn about his business and test his products. (www.ayanatural.com)

Amnon Gofer, author of Galilee Secrets, threaded our trip together and regaled us each step of the way with stories and information. We visited sites including Napoleon’s Hill, an ancient wine press, a Baha’i palace and church ruins; some of which may easily have gone unnoticed without Gofer's guidance. This is the beauty of his tours, and indeed, of the western Galilee initiative as a whole. The team brings visitors to places they would never have known to go to, with a passion and warmth that lights up each corner of the region. (www.gofer.co.il)

For upcoming events, visit www.westgalil.org.il. ■

The writer was a guest of Western Galilee Now.

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